The reaction to Robin Williams’ death has been unlike any celebrity death I can remember. We all knew Whitney was going to go, and Michael Jackson’s end was as expected as it was bizarre. With Williams there seem to be few mysteries. It was a battle, and he lost. Yet the shock of his tragic decision seems to have transcended our celebrity autopsy culture with its essential question: how can someone who gave so much, who had so much to give, have turned away from the light with such finality?
It’s a question we’ve all tried to answer at one point.
It’s also opened up a floodgate of frank talk about depression. As many have pointed out, there’s a difference between the blues—temporary depression we’ve all suffered from at one time or another—and the deep, clinical depression that killed Williams and Kurt and Plath and so many others.
Depression, and its ugly twin, substance abuse, are both hazards of the creative life. My Facebook feed has been flooded with creative people discussing their own depression, sometimes with courage, sometimes with dread. Neither is the “right” response. This is a daily battle we all face, the important part is to get through, to know you are not alone, to find the light in what seems like an endless darkness. We get by in measures that are appropriate.
Joshua Hale Fialkov has a much linked to post that expresses all this much better than I can. Fialkov’s own battle is with migraines, not depression but the battle is similar.
There is never enough. Never enough time, never enough money, never enough success, never enough praise, never enough sales. Never enough. That’s part of the life I’ve chosen. We struggle to find that thing that makes us feel satisfied, that gives us joy, but, the truth is that the joy is fleeting. The feeling of being ‘full’ only lasts for a few moments before the hunger returns.
This is the life of an artist. This is the life of anyone who aspires to be greater than they are.
This is unattainable. This is the bottom line to life, from top to bottom from the most successful man on earth to the weakest child on the playground. Nothing you ever do will be enough.
The talking is good. I had a long talk with one of my oldest friends I don’t speak with as much as I should who had dated Williams back in the day. Some of her stories were hilarious but they are hers to tell. So many people have shared stories of Williams shopping in their comics stores or book stores (the guy liked to read!), or meeting him at charity events. All the stories are of a kind man, a giving man. I dread the day when the celebrity autopsy horror stories come out…for now keeping these kind, human moments alive helps with getting through.
I’ve had a case of the blahs myself of late. Not being productive enough, things I let slide, the dog days of August, post Comic-Con let-down. Nothing I haven’t felt before—I’ve learned to be pretty resilient in my life. Like I said, we all have good days and bad days. Last night I got together with two industry colleagues and in a few hours of smart, funny talk about life and comics—moments where I never looked at my cell phone—everything was OK again. On to the next battle.
The communal mourning and questioning is part of the healing. I almost feel like the good from all the sharing has overwhelmed the sadness. Life is both beautiful and terrifying, but its beauties and terrors are best experienced knowing you are not alone in this glorious muddle. You are not alone. We are not alone.
PS: Yes I forgot Popeye in my first post about Robin Williams. Which sucks because despite it being a horrible flop, it’s a sweet, wonderful movie— written by Jules Feiffer! Wacky as hell, a glorious muddle. And a role, like so many others, that Williams was born to play.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.